Ballet dancers warm up at the barre. Football players grunt through push-ups. Joggers stretch their Achilles' tendons.

And ice dancers glide aroung on their edges.

To the novice, an ice skate is a boot with a blade on the bottom. But the secret to all that's fancy -- the Dorothy Hamill routines, the neat "8s" left on shimmery ice, the pirouettes of the daredevils in the middle of the rink -- depends on whether the skater puts his or her weight on the inside or outside of the blade.

Edges are the salvation from a lifetime of endless circles, ceaseless rings around the perimeter of a skating rink. They create the pizazz.

So, at start of every Ice Club session, the members glide around on their edges.

A voice calls out, "Forward outside edges."

The music begins. "Mack the Knife," in the finest Muzak tradition.

About 20 skaters in costumes ranging from Ice Capades chic to polyester move in unison their version of pre-game calisthenics.

"Forward inside edges," says the voice. There is a barely perciptible change in the posture of the skaters, as they lean in with their weight.

The Ice Club rents out Cabin John, a partially-enclosed rink, and the indoor Mount Vernon Rink twice a week. It's not easy finding skating time -- clubs, hockey teams and budding Olympic stars scramble for the hours that aren't reserved for classes and public sessions.

After spending a few minutes warming up, the skaters start three-stepping into the "Dutch waltz" to the tune of a little ditty called "The Honeymoon Waltz."

At a disco, the music might change from slow to fast, catching even the best dancers flailing to change tempo. But that won't ever happen at an ice dance.

The evening's program is posted, with a list of dances and accompanying tunes.

"There's no such thing as improvisation in these dances," said Sherman Landau, who skates weekly with his wife Doris. "If you decide to go in a new direction all of a sudden, your partner goes flying."

Flying partners are very rare sights.

The dances vary in difficulty, and easy ones alternate with the more complex throughout the evening.

The Fiesta.The Willow Waltz. The Moonlight Tango. A book published by the U.S. Figure Skating Association illustrates each movement of the dances on charts that look like Arthur Murray charts. But instead of foot prints, the pictures are of arcs moving from one position to next.

Even the charts have a certain grace to them. But in the cavernous rink, across the smooth ice, the dancers themselves look postively magical.

"Skating is like walking or bicycling, once you learn," said Charles Wittholz, a lean, ruddy man with a booming voice, who has skated since childhood. "But the steps make for a constant challenge."

"I wouldn't come if it weren't close by," said one member, who nonetheless looked like she was enjoying herself greatly. Another, however, makes a special trip from Saint Mary's County for the Sunday night Cabin John session.

"I came to pacify my wife," said a disgruntled man, who spent much of the time a wallflower.

"I'm what you call a skating widower," boomed out another, willingly trying his best. "If I don't come with my wife occasionally, I'm home by myself."

The Ice Club has members of all ages and of different levels of commitment, but most are adults who just skate once a week. It formed about 40 years ago, back when Dean Acheson was a member and engraved inviations announced the club sessions.

"Now we're lucky if we mimeorgaph a notice," Sherman Landau, president of the club two years ago, said ruefully.

Most people who join clubs do so to avoid the crowds at public sessions and to have the space to practice free-style routines and dances. A club also serves as a home base for those, especially the young people, who compete in U.S. Figure Skating Association sanctioned tournaments.

"There's fellowship in a club," says Florence Sifferd of the Washington Figure Skating Club, orginally formed as an offshoot of the Ice Club. "Everyone helps the person who can't stand up, and when he finally can, he'll help the next person who can't."

The Washington Figure Skating Club, now the largest in the area, has four sessions a week. Members pay dues and then a fee at each session. It's a structured organization with a large junior division of young people. serious about competitions.

Most of the members of the Skating Club of Northern Virginia are juniors, ages 6 to 17, who must first reach a certain level of expertise to belong. The club organizes occasional non-skating activities and some members volunteer to help with the Junior Olympics.

"Figure skating is such an individual thing," said Donna Schirf, who drives her daughter Mary Kay to practice at Fairfax Arena every morning. "You lose the perspective of doing things as a team. That's why these group things are important for the kids."

Kids aren't the only ones who need relatively empty ice space.

"We senior skaters need a safe place to skate, and that's why we formed our club," said Rossme Taylor, who skates with the Suburban Club of Maryland at the Herbert Wells Rink in College Park. "By senior, I mean over age 35. We're not Linda Fratiannes, but we want to do a bit more than just skate 'round and 'round."

The emphasis of this club is recreational, rather than competitive, and many of the older members are getting up on skates for the first time in their lives.

"Every time you get up on your skates, you feel a little more confortable," said Florence Sifferd, who claims that she spends so much time organizing the Figure Skating Club activities that she hasn't much time to skate herself. "It's like practicing the piano. I call it ice security."